Sioux Valley Dakota Nation has been hit hard by the meth crisis. Nearly everyone has a painful story of a relative, friend, or neighbour who got hooked on the easily-available and affordable drug.
It’s estimated that more than 100 Sioux Valley residents use meth, which is a staggering 10 per cent of the population living there. The highly-addictive drug is being dealt right out of homes on the reserve, says Melissa Bone.
She’s president of the fledgling Bear Clan group launched in Sioux Valley last fall in response to the meth problem. The need to take action sprang from her personal experience.
“I have been touched by this crisis and I didn’t know how to handle it myself. I had no way to deal with it, who to talk to, and how to help them.”
Bone is the legal guardian of her niece’s 11-year-old son. The boy’s mother is addicted to meth and currently in jail. Bone talks to him about drugs openly and frankly.
“When there’s a cycle of addiction in your family, you need to talk to young people about what it did to you and them, how bad it can be.”
In fact, education is a key piece of the Bear Clan’s work in a community that previously had only the police to turn to.
“They (police) came and took one of my family members to the drunk tank three nights in a row because he was in withdrawal, he was paranoid and hallucinating. And we didn’t know how to make him feel safe and convince him that nobody was following him or trying to kill him.”
“He begged us to call police because the only place he felt safe was locked in that cell.”
Last fall, Bone contacted the Bear Clan Patrol in Winnipeg and asked them to help her set up a group on the First Nations community located near Griswold. Fifteen local volunteers signed on.
The original plan was to conduct patrols to collect used needles, identify dealers’ homes, and offer help to users. But busy schedules made it hard to get a regular patrol off the ground.
Their goal now, says Bone, is to visit every home in Sioux Valley to educate and offer the Bear Clan’s help when needed, not as an authority figure, she stresses, but a resource.
For example, residents need to learn how to recognize the common meth withdrawal symptoms, know what to do and who to call for help. But, she urges, know your limits.
“Don’t try to force them to quit, just make sure they are eating and sleeping. It can be risky and unsafe (to challenge them), they could fly into a rage and hurt you if they’re on meth.”
The RCMP’s Virden Detachment provides policing services to Sioux Valley and is on the front lines of the meth fight. Staff Sargent Joe Frizzley is pleased to have the newest Bear Clan on the scene.
“I think the Bear Clan in Sioux Valley is great news for their community as this is a positive step in keeping it safe.”
The first Bear Clan began in Winnipeg in 1992 as a community-based means of crime prevention and personal safety. Members use traditional practices to guide their work in a non-violent, supportive way. There are also Bear Clan patrols in Brandon and Selkirk.